Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Dettmer/Bisbee Slap

Take something so ordinary that you don't even see it. Add imagination. Jolt people into another order of consciousness.

I've just returned from alternate dimensions. Each one is exactly like our own but the meanings of things are completely different.

I have known people who have made a point of expostulating while waving their arms on why art is not important and has no place in their world. This opinion ignores reality.

The last time this happened, my friend and coworker was sitting in a chair. He had a desk, a computer on it, inside a cubicle. The floor was carpeted. His shelf held books. The desk drawer held pens, pencils, paper clips and Post-it notes, among other things.

He had no clue that even the pencil in his hand had undergone several centuries of development and marketing on several continents. (Read "The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance: by Henry Petroski.) True, most of this development was by engineers, scientists, and technical wizards, but the thickness, shape, length, color, and logo placed on the pencil are still under scrutiny.

It's easier to imagine if you take something less common, like a ball point pen. It's less a commodity and more a result of a specific company so you expect one specimen to be a bit different from all others. That comes from art, and art comes from creativity.

There is no formula.

I've just come across the work of two artists, John Bisbee and Brian Dettmer. Each one has a formula, of sorts, but their creative formulas are hidden, and inherent in their identities.

You can say that creativity is taking something familiar and making it unfamiliar. Not necessarily better in any sort of way. Possibly even often worse, even with no regard to utility.

Creativity is simple but hard. And is it scary. Frightening. Shocking. To be shocking is one of its uses. It provides us with some things that we need. One of them is simple novelty.

The human eye likes edges, whether they come from contrast (light against dark or dark against light, one color against another) or from sparkle. Handle a cut diamond or even a piece of broken glass in the sunshine and if you really look at it, you'll barely be able to put it down again. The flash of its reflections has an inherent attraction because it is always new.

Creativity provides edges. It takes us by the consciousness and throws us straight out of our normal world an into another one.

Your exploding breath, your shaking body, your howls, and your tears are all acknowledgment of the unexpected, creativity we call humor. We like that, but maybe we'll say we don't like the shower scene in "Psycho". That is also creativity. It jars, it jolts, and in this case frightens, but it also makes us more alive.

Creativity does that, and it can do it without always being pleasant. It is the kick into a totally different reality, another dimension, that counts.

It keeps us fresh. It reminds us that we don't know it all, and so refreshes a person's humility. It inspires. It picks up our spirits. It resets out own imaginations. It can be a piece of art on a wall, a piece of art that we stick onto an envelope, a horror movie, a roller coaster ride. Any of these and more.

Whichever it is and however encountered, creativity makes us better.

The source? Can't say, but I know that things come to me when they want to. Artists say that sort of thing all the time. Song writers just start hearing the music and words, and write them down as they come. A sculptor can't quite to that but if producing something meaningful from a block of marble is just to remove what isn't the subject, that implies some sort of guiding principle that the artist (the right artist) only has to listen to.

For me, in my simple way, at my limited level of creativity, it seems to be cross-linked connections somewhere. I'm always perceiving juxtapositions that act like a shock from a thick dry carpet.

Take this, not mine, but from a world class comedian: A person gets onto an elevator. Asks the other person already there where they're going. Second person says "Phoenix".

Do a thought experiment.

Go into a store, stop, pick the first thing handy, and see something about it that no one has has ever seen before. Write about it, photograph it, make up a joke or a song, or redesign in a way that will make people gasp.

As stated, it's simple but hard.

Now try that with a box of nails. If you succeed you are John Bisbee. If you succeed with a box of old books you are Brian Dettmer. John Bisbee welds nails together in ways you would have no reason to expect, and Brian Dettmer carves into books to reveal their internals.

Prefer yours in writing? OK, look up comedian Stephen Wright. You can find reams of his quotes online. Or go to Timothy McSweeney internet site and see what it's like to imagine Ernest Hemingway blogging about the top teams in college basketball. Too obvious? How about "Midlife-Crisis Bible Stories"? There's still "Open letters to people or entities who are unlikely to respond", a whole section of the site.

You can find anything you want if you go looking. People all over are full of creativity. If not the ones around you, then maybe you're in the wrong place. You could be somewhere else entirely, if you want. Somewhere more interesting. Like another universe where the books have been autopsied, or the nails snake across the floor.

References:

Brian Dettmer at Centripetal Notion
Brian Dettmer at Wikipedia
John Bisbee exhibition at Portland_Museum_of_Art
John Bisbee on National Public Radio
John Bisbee at Wikipedia
McSweeney's Internet Tendency



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